Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Proud to be an American

Well, it's the day after. How are you handling your Election Day hangover? Some are elated; others are nursing their wounds. And me? I am...content.

It's interesting to be content after an election. I'm not talking about "content because my guy won." [Honestly, other than the Presidential election, I have no idea how the candidates I voted for did.]  That's not contentment, anyway. That's joy, happiness, adulation. I don't feel that. I also don't feel bitter, angry or despondent. I feel...settled; peaceful...whether or not my candidates won.

I feel content for a few reasons.

1) Americans exercised their right to vote. Many Americans voted for the first time. This is great reason to rejoice - even if they vote for your guy or not. We have been given the privilege to participate in our government - to have a voice in the laws that regulate our activities - and people are freely choosing to participate. That is awesome.

2) My students voted. In my 301 course, Applying Critical Thinking to Critical Discourse, my goal is to assist my students in developing their critical thinking skills by analyzing issues. One of their assignments is analyzing an opinion piece (usually political). Their analysis needs to include the author's crediblity, the intent of the article, the claim and evidence used to support the claim. Then, they reflect on what they learned.

Most of the students in my class share that they don't really think about politics, "so I learned a lot." Many of my students reveal at the beginning of the class that they get political information from their parents. Their lack of political information was evident from their second writing assignment where they described their American dream and then were tasked with explaining how their dream relates to their political choices. While students could describe in great detail what they wanted their future to look like, they couldn't connect that to political issues or stances, much less, candidates. [At this point, you begin to wonder if age and citizenship should be the only two factors necessary to vote.]

But, then a funny thing happens on the way to the voting booth.... For my students' third presentation, as a group, they had to choose an issue, evaluate the issue's arguments and counter-arguments, choose a side, and defend their stance (with evidence!) to the class. They did great. The pieces are starting to click. They can identify positions and defend them.

Yesterday in class, their roll call was to share if they voted, and if not - why. 90% voted; the few that did not had good reasons to abstain (lack of information about issues).

Because they can identify positions and defend them with evidence, I have hope for the future, regardless of how they vote. We may not see eye-to-eye on issues all the time; we may question evidence used to support positions. The promise is that they can reason and consider other points of view when establishing their own.

3) States are not just red and not just blue. I really enjoyed the election coverage highlighting voter break-down in the "swing states." The fact that many states are not overwhelmingly one color or another signals this (to me): we're not a one-color country. We. must. compromise. in order to serve our country.

In my students' American Dream papers, many indicated that they're independents. They don't want to pick sides. They think there is value in thinking about an issue and choosing the best course - not being tied to the party's position. There is such promise for America. What if we could discuss the merits of an issue without disparaging the merits of the person presenting the idea?

My students' growth gives me hope that maybe one day in America, we can discuss the merits of an issue or policy. That American government will be "of the people" - meaning that many will participate (not just vote) in a manner that is respectful of individuals for the good of our country and its citizens.

Therefore, I will leave you with my favorite American song: God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood.

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